Sem and Armand

Until the end of last week, each time I glanced through the living room window into the garden, I wasn’t entirely happy with what I saw. Despite regular tidying, trimming and weeding since the start of the year, the end of winter garden looked a little unloved. But two elements have now combined to present an altogether more pleasing aspect.

The first of these was the application of four 50 litre bags of well rotted manure as a thick mulch. This should have been done in February before the herbaceous perennials began to emerge but I was able to work around the few that have already emerged without causing any damage. The dark material has had a unifying effect on the garden by highlighting the woodland plants at the foot of the only tree, an Amelanchier lamarckii, about which more in a later blog as well as the plants which line the gravel path leading around the little rectangular pond to the seating area beyond a wooden archway.

The second element which improves the appearance of the garden at this stage of the year is the rapid eruption into growth of one of my favourite small shrubs, a species of Sorbaria. Several years ago a friend with a very grand garden in Edgbaston gave me a little rooted plantlet which immediately made itself at home in Kew soil. It has serrated and neatly veined leaves and until I started to research it for this post, I have identified it as Sorbaria sorbifolia, but I now realise that it is the compact cultivar ‘Sem’, which grows to a maximum height of 1.5 metres. The RHS describe its distinctive leaf colouring as ‘yellow-green flushed with bright reddish-pink and bronze in spring’. And it is that blend of shades which has this week brightened the far corner of the garden, in front of the bare stems of the Wisteria whose flowering spurs I pruned to two or three buds last month. Even during heavy rain earlier this week the vibrant ‘Sem’ has shone out, a beacon of light on a dreary day.

In summer it will bear frothy spires of small white flowers which remind me of Aruncus and Astilbe, but for me its foliage is its best characteristic. That and its willingness to sucker freely meaning there are always new plants to give away or introduce into Weeds Roots & Leaves’ planting schemes. Last autumn I took several cuttings and I’m thrilled to see they have all taken.

Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ is a member of the rose family, Rosaceae, so it is appropriate that one of its neighbours in the garden is the climbing rose, Rosa ‘White Star’, which I am encouraging to wind around one pillar of the wooden arch. Implementing the advice given by Osterley Head Gardener, Andy Eddy, in his recent rose pruning and training session for volunteers. I have trained the stems to twine in as horizontal a direction as possible although in reality they are on a diagonal leading upwards. Even before leafing and flowering I believe the plant looks tidier and more elegant.

Another star of the garden this week is Clematis armandii. Rescued from the sale table at a garden centre three years ago this is its first year to flower profusely. It has produced a mass of large ivory star-like blooms above its clusters of plump rosy buds. I’m not a fan of its leathery evergreen downward hanging leaves which always remind me of washing on a line, but the beauty of its fragrant flowers this month outweighs such reservations.

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